Joe Cortez: Modesto Christian boys, girls host elite teams this weekend

01/29/2014 6:02 PM

01/29/2014 6:09 PM

Both the Modesto Christian boys and girls basketball teams will play nonleague games Saturday against some of the toughest competition California has to offer.

The boys tip off the doubleheader with a 2 p.m. game against El Cerrito, the state’s 19th-ranked team – No. 4 in Northern California – according to Cal-Hi Sports.

The girls take on St. Mary’s (Berkeley), ranked No. 4 in the state and second in NorCal by Cal-Hi. The game is set for a 3:30 p.m. tipoff.

It’ll be some of the best prep basketball played in these parts until the playoffs begin Feb. 21. Even then, you might not see such well-played games.

Not since the late 1980s and ’90s, when Ripon Christian’s boys and girls and Merced High School’s boys ruled the hardwood, have Stanislaus District teams displayed the dominance of Modesto Christian’s boys and girls.

And there’s a reason for that – MC has the best players. That’s pretty obvious.

But less obvious is that the Crusaders consistently play a challenging preseason schedule, with late-season toughies sprinkled in (the boys will travel to Oakland on Feb. 8 to take on Bishop O’Dowd, No. 1 in NorCal and No. 4 in the state by Cal-Hi).

These late-season nonconference games serve two purposes: One, they give the Crusaders a glimpse of what they’ll see deep in the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs and in the even tougher Northern California tournament. Two, they knock off some of the ring rust that has accumulated during the six-week yawner of a league schedule.

Modesto Christian’s boys have won their seven league matchups by an average of 49 points per game – beating one league foe by 81 points. The girls have won by an average of 46 points, with only one margin fewer than 30 points.

Not exactly challenging. So, the Crusaders have to look for other ways to maintain their edge.

“We have to do it because we want to stay sharp,” said MC girls coach Robb Spencer of scheduling tough opponents in late January and February. “No disrespect to anyone else in our league, but for playoff purposes we have to get somebody outside our normal realm.”

Former Merced boys coach Vince Clemons, who won every league game in his first five seasons (1983-87) as the Bears’ coach, always had his team ready for conference thanks to an annual December swing through Northern California.

Clemons, who hit the game-winning shot for Ells High School (Richmond) in the 1964 NorCal Tournament of Champions title game, is a veteran of the old Bay Area wars. He saw firsthand that the inner-city game is often faster and more physical than what’s routinely played in the valley.

Still, not every coach sets up tough schedules.

“With the old power ratings, there was no advantage to it,” Clemons said. “We’d use all our contacts early in the season. But any time you can play tough competition closer to the playoffs, it should help.”

Under the power ratings – based on a complicated algorithm – the preseason schedule counted for 30 percent of a team’s rating while conference play counted 70 percent. Tough schedules would prepare a team for the playoff grind, but they weren’t always given proper weight when teams were seeded for the playoffs. In some cases, a loss against a state-ranked Bay Area squad counted the same as a loss against a valley team if the school enrollments were alike.

The power-rankings system was tweaked a number of times over the years, but we’ve probably seen the last of them. This year, the top three from the section’s 27 leagues (nine leagues will get a fourth playoff berth) will advance to postseason play. Of course, preseason scheduling will be considered by the seeding committee.

For some cash-strapped school districts, travel costs come into play. Some schools are better equipped to bus their teams 100 miles or more for a preseason game. Some simply can’t.

But all things being equal, scheduling up is the best way to build a stronger team.

Tickets for the aforementioned Modesto Christian-Bishop O’Dowd boys basketball game on Feb. 8 in Oakland are being pre-sold online. The Bishop O’Dowd administration has made available 150 tickets for Modesto Christian faithful. Fans cannot purchase tickets at the door. To buy tickets, go to www.totalgatesolutions.com, type in Bishop O’Dowd in the search area for school, click on “event” and find the Feb. 8 game on the calendar. …

The fourth annual Hoops for the Cure Classic, which raises funds for the fight against breast cancer, was held Saturday night at Ripon High School. The event – a showcase between Ripon and East Union, with both teams wearing pink, breast-cancer-awareness uniforms – topped the $20,000 mark for money raised during the past four years. Proceeds benefit the Triple Step Toward The Cure foundation, helping fight triple-negative breast cancer, which lacks the three “receptors” known to fuel most breast cancers (the most successful treatments target these receptors). You can visit the foundation’s website at triplesteptowardthecure.org.

And, just for the record, the Lancers won the varsity game 42-40.

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